Leaders seek Brightline expansion to Tampa, point to 'critical breaking point' in I-4 traffic

Two regional transportation boards representing Tampa Bay and Orlando passed a resolution supporting the expansion of a passenger rail service along I-4. 

The Sun Coast Transportation Planning Alliance and Central Florida MPO Alliance passed the resolution, which calls on the state to commit funding to expanding passenger rail service like Brightline and increasing Amtrak service. Transportation leaders are continuing to push for an expansion of Brightline to connect I-4 from Orlando to Tampa.

"We have a lot of crashes," Forward Pinellas Executive Director White Blanton said. "We have a lot of unreliable travel time getting between Tampa and Orlando and Volusia County."

READ: Is high-speed rail coming to Tampa? New bill hopes to fast-track Brightline expansion

With the boom in growth that the Tampa Bay area continues to see, transportation officials said something needs to be done to alleviate the congestion along I-4.

"We’ve seen a lot of investments in highways in the state of Florida," Blanton said. "We haven’t seen a lot of investment in passenger rail transportation."

Blanton said passenger rail service along I-4 would help bring public transportation in Florida into the 21st century. Hillsborough County transportation officials said it’s a matter of when Brightline expands to Tampa.

"What we want to avoid is passengers get off of the train in Tampa and then struggle to get to their final destination," said Johnny Wong, the Hillsborough Transportation Planning Organization executive director.

Hillsborough TPO officials anticipate that stop to be in Ybor City.

"One of the things that we’re looking at is how we also plan around what’s also going on in Ybor City," Wong said. "Ybor City is receiving a lot of residential infill. There are also some big planned developments in that area, like the Gasworx project."

They said they’re launching a mobility study to determine how to accommodate a passenger rail service stop in the area, and how to then transport people from there to the airport or the beaches.

"We’ve got to figure out how we offer bus service, because some folks may not feel comfortable taking the street car, or operations may not exist at all times of the day," Wong said.

Transportation leaders said an expansion of passenger rail service along I-4 would serve as a catalyst for advancing public transportation across Florida.

"And would help support the growth that’s happening in the state of Florida, without forcing everybody to get in a car ride and tackle I-4," Blanton said.

No action will come directly out of the resolution approved. However, leaders hope the state will answer the calls for funding of this project.

Brightline has been planning to expand from Orlando to Tampa for years, but during the last legislative session, a $50 million appropriations request that would have helped fast track development stalled out.

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In April, Governor DeSantis said the state is holding space for train service on I-4, but that the state would not directly help Brightline with grants.